ATLANTA — Georgia Power bills will jump more than $14 for average residential customers next month under a plan approved Tuesday by the state’s Public Service Commission.
The regulators voted 4-1 to allow the Southern Co. subsidiary to impose one of its sharpest rate increases in recent history, a decision that also allows the utility to ask for more money if its profits fall below a set target. Georgia Power said the rate increase was necessary to offset a bad economy, upgrade power plants and pay to build two more nuclear reactors.
Critics had urged regulators to scale back the increase, saying it was too much during a recession that has pushed unemployment to 10.1 percent. The company has nearly 2.4 million customers across Georgia.
“This is one of the most difficult votes I will be making on this commission,” said Commissioner Chuck Eaton, who voted for the plan moments later. “A lot of people are in very difficult situations right now.”
The lone “no” vote came from outgoing Commissioner Robert Baker, widely seen as the most aggressive consumer advocate on the panel. He backed an alternate plan that would have limited Georgia Power’s profit margins and he opposed making it easier for the utility to ask for a rate increase without filing a new regulatory case with the commission.
Baker sharply criticized the settlement that effectively resolved the increase, which was written by the utility firm and the PSC’s staff. He called it a “disturbing precedent.”
“Other parties were invited to sign onto the agreement, but with no opportunity to change any of the provisions. It was a take-it-or-leave-it proposition,” Baker said.
The state chapter of the AARP was one of the several consumer advocacy groups that filed an alternate plan, which the commission rejected.
“This deal was crafted by Georgia Power for Georgia Power,” said Will Phillips, associate state director of AARP Georgia. “It raises customer rates by hundreds of millions of dollars more than is necessary in one of the worst economies in a generation.”
Besides approving the rate increase, the commission on Tuesday also voted to allow Georgia Power to start charging its customers for the finance costs of building two more nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro. The nuclear plants, which have not yet received federal approval, would not start producing electricity until 2016 and 2017.
When combined, those decisions will result in almost $22 in new charges for Georgia Power customers by 2013. The firm is still finalizing the exact cost of its plans.